Ferguson commits to DOJ reforms

Published 5:34 AM EDT, Fri March 18, 2016
The shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in August 2014 threw a spotlight on race relations in Ferguson.
The shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in August 2014 threw a spotlight on race relations in Ferguson.

Story highlights

Ferguson City Council and the DOJ have jointly filed a consent decree on reforms

It follows months of negotiations aimed at an overhaul of police and court systems

(CNN) —  

The U.S. Justice Department and Ferguson have jointly filed a court-enforceable agreement to overhaul the Missouri city’s troubled police force and municipal court system.

“The American people must be able to trust that their courts and law enforcement will uphold, protect, and defend their constitutional rights,” said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch.

“The filing of this agreement marks the beginning of a process that the citizens of Ferguson have long awaited – the process of ensuring that they receive the rights and protections guaranteed to every American under the law.”

National conversation

The national spotlight on Ferguson began after the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson in August 2014. Brown, who was unarmed, was black, and Wilson is white.

Brown’s death prompted days of protests and riots in Ferguson, and a national conversation on the role of race in police interactions with citizens.

City sued

A DOJ investigation after the shooting last year found the Ferguson Police Department had discriminated against African-Americans.

The department and Ferguson City Council spent months working out a plan to reform Ferguson’s police and court systems, but when councilors came to vote in February, they demanded seven amendments to the deal.

City officials at the time insisted that their vote wasn’t a rejection of the DOJ agreement but rather a push to return to the table because of concerns over the cost of some terms such as additional salary to police.

However, the DOJ – which alleges a pattern and practice of unconstitutional police conduct in the city – sued the city. This week, councilors agreed to accept its consent decree.

What they agreed on

An independent monitor will assess implementation of the consent decree terms, which include:

  • Creating a community engagement strategy
  • Training police and court staff in bias-awareness
  • Reforming the municipal court system to ensure that enforcement is driven by public safety, not revenue
  • Ensuring that stops, searches and arrests do not discriminate on the basis of race or any other protected characteristic
  • Requiring police officers to use body-worn and in car cameras, and the police department to fairly investigate any allegations of misconduct
  • The establishment of a Civilian Review Board to review investigations of complaints involving excessive force, abuse of authority and use of discriminatory slurs

Click here for the consent decree in full

Legal process

In March last year, the Justice Department formally closed its investigation into police officer Wilson, declining to bring civil rights charges against him over Brown’s death.

It concluded Brown was moving toward the officer when Wilson fired.

But the DOJ also issued a 102-page report, saying some Ferguson police officers saw residents as “sources of revenue,” leading to practices that federal investigators said disproportionately targeted black residents.

It also found evidence of racist jokes sent by some Ferguson police officers and court officials, and made 26 recommendations for reform.

Brown’s parents filed a wrongful death suit against the city in April, which has yet to be heard.